Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hobbie elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

I normally don't include personal news on this blog. Not sure why, I just haven't.

But I have to share the news about my father, John Hobbie. He was just elected to join the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, as a 2008 honoree in the category of Evolutionary and Population Biology and Ecology.

To outline my father's web presence for a minute, he recently retired as Co-Director of the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He remains an MBL Senior Scholar and the Principal Investigator a/k/a "Boss" of the Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site at Toolik Lake on the North Slope of Alaska. If you like maps like my father does, check out Toolik area pics at the University of Alaska's Toolik Field Station web site, the "Toolik GIS and Remote Sensing" area.

One of the reasons for the award is doubtless my father's pioneering work on microbial ecology. For some background on microbial ecology see this LTER group paper outlining key next steps in the field. He has led investigations into how bacteria and other microorganisms affect the food chain and the decomposition and flow of nutrients in whole ecosystems--tying together beasties so small we cannot even see them with the carbon and nitrogen cycling of an entire watershed such as the Kuparak River basin in Alaska or the Plum Island Sound in Massachusetts.

And he hasn't just relied on old methods--he has actively sought out new ways of evaluating microbial activity, including a path-breaking paper outlining a new method, "Use of Nuclepore filters for counting bacteria by fluorescence microscopy." Applied Environmental Microbiology 33:1225-1228 (1977). He has also pioneered use of RNA and DNA to evaluate the incredible diversity of species present in each drop of lake water.

Like lawyers, scientists care about how often a precedent is cited, and the papers on these subjects have scored very high "citation counts" since publication.

In terms of practical application, because there has been very real warming in the Arctic, per NASA and others, his research Up North perhaps provides a preview for the rest of us of what a world subject to global warming might look like. His work also leads to greater understanding of how land development and pollution affect marine and aquatic ecosystems.

My father has not rested on his laurels. According to the Ecosystems Center, with my brother Erik (at the University of New Hampshire) he recently developed a novel way to calculate the transfer of nitrogen from Arctic mushrooms to plants, and reveal how fungi living symbiotically on plant roots transfer nutrients to them. The method sheds light on nitrogen cycling in the arctic tundra ecosystem. Symbiotic root fungi (mycorrhizae) are globally distributed, ubiquitous members of plant communities, but until now their true significance was poorly understood.

In addition to his contributions to the methodology and science of his particular field, he has also served as a leader in a new collaborative approach to biological science. To quote the Ecoystems Center website, "Because the complex nature of modern ecosystems research requires a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach, center scientists work together on projects, as well as with investigators from other centers at the MBL and from other institutions, combining expertise from a wide range of disciplines." Leading a group like this takes social collaboration skills, which my father and his group have in spades--and without much use of blogs or wikis!

So, without a shred of objectivity, congratulations to my Dad, Dr. John E. Hobbie, on a well-deserved major honor!

1 comment:

jackvinson said...

That is excellent news and very impressive. The Academy is a very nice honor to have as your dad "retires" - my dad is still doing work with his old company ten years after retirement.